Monday, May 7, 2012

Sudan journalists protest attacks on press freedom

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On May 3rd as the world marked the World Press Freedom day, an annual day declared by the UN General Assembly, Sudanese journalists had no reason to celebrate.  In fact, they spent the day just like many days before it, fighting against censorship and calling for press freedom.
Journalists working for Al-Jareeda newspaper, an independent daily based in Khartoum, headed to the Sudanese Journalist’s Union (SJU) not to join their celebration, but to stage a silent sit-in. On May 1st and May 2nd, Al-Jareeda was taken over by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) of Sudan.
Since its inception in 2010, Al-Jareeda has been known to feature all voices and for it’s good coverage of issues affecting people in states beyond Khartoum state, where the capital lies. It has faced many problems for its work, ranging from regular confiscations, pressure on the administration to fire certain columnists for their controversial work and a three-month suspension by the NISS at the end of last year.

The writers and editors sat inside the SJU for hours and made national and international news. 

One of the newspapers editors said that their sit-in overshadowed the celebration of the SJU as it was covered by Al-Jazeera and other channels.
Photo credits: State of Media Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih

At the same time, a significant number of journalists, editors , activists and the who’s who in Sudan were gathering at a workshop spearheaded by Al-Midan, the mouth-piece of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) to celebrate the memory of its veteran editor, the late Al-Tijani Al-Tayeb.
The editor-in-chief of Al-Midan, the only female who occupies this position in Sudan, Madiha Abdullah,said to the audience that Al-Midan was raided on World Press Freedom and this did not surprise her at all.
So far, Al-Midan has been taken over by security forces 11 times in May. This is a lot for a newspaper that is issued three times a week.
The workshop titled ” The reality of press freedoms in Sudan” discussed the personality and work of Al Tayeb who was the editor-in-chief of Al-Midan when it flourished under democracy and had to work underground in dictatorial periods. For over a decade until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in 2005, Al-Midan was published underground and distributed secretly.
The situation is not very different now. Confiscated issues of Al-Midan are uploaded to their website for their readers. Columnists who face censorship and are not allowed to publish their work in print media send it to websites such as Sudanile , Hurriyat and Al-Rakoba.
In Al-Sharjah Hall where the workshop was held, Amel Habbani , a well-known human rights activist and journalist headed one of the sessions.

“The number of journalists banned for writing in Sudanese newspapers went up to 11 in just the week ending April,” said Amel Habbani who is a banned journalist herself. Banned journalists are either not allowed to write by NISS or newspapers are too worried about publishing their work because they are afraid of confiscations and harassment.
In theory, NISS is not allowed to confiscate issues or suspend newspapers, but yet they do. NISS officers take matters into their own hands and close down newspapers. This year alone, three newspapers were suspended. Two have resumed work, but Rai Al Shab remains suspended.
The law they use to close down newspapers is the same law used to confiscate expired foods, one of the attendees said. One journalist said that he was summoned by NISS recently and he gets regular threatening calls. And some journalists are battling court cases for articles they have published.
A UNESCO  report published on World Press Freedom Day in 2011, Sudan ranked 40 out of 48 in Sub-Saharan Africa for press freedom.

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